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Over the next two years, PaCSIA will be engaged in an exciting capacity building project in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. The project will be carried out in close collaboration with local partners. It aims to contribute to peacebuilding and the strengthening of grassroots democratic governance. It is geared towards community leaders in the Panguna mine area of the island of Bougainville, who are faced with the challenging task of making the voices of the local people heard in the debates and negotiations about the future of the Panguna gold and copper mine.

This huge mine in the mountainous interior of Central Bougainville was the primary catalyst of the internal war that devastated Bougainville between 1988 and 1998. It was shut down in an early stage of the war and remains closed even today. While peacebuilding on Bougainville in general has made considerable progress over the last decade and a half, the core issue of the mine had been left untouched until recently. Today, however, an intense public and political debate is underway on the question of re-opening the Panguna mine, with massive pressure to re-open it for economic and political reasons. The people in the mine-affected area have to make up their minds on this issue and make their voices heard. Getting this right is of utmost importance for the future of the peace process in Bougainville and the future well-being of the people on the ground. They are the ones who suffered most from the mine and the war, and they will be the ones most affected by a decision about re-opening the mine. The ultimate success of current peacebuilding very much depends on finding a solution to the Panguna mine problem, and there will not be a solution without the involvement of the people in the mine-affected areas.

This is where the PaCSIA project comes in. At its core is the empowerment of community leaders at the grassroots level – chiefs, elders, church, women and youth leaders. These leaders have valuable experience in local governance, dispute resolution and the management of community affairs. However, in the context of the Panguna mine issue, and current social and political developments on Bougainville more generally, they have to deal with new problems. Therefore they have to adapt to new challenges and expand their knowledge, capacities and skills accordingly. This project will support them in doing so and thus contribute to their empowerment.

Together with local Bougainville partners, a series of workshops with community leaders from around thirty communities in mine-affected areas will be conducted in order to strengthen the local governance and negotiation capacities. This will enable these communities to competently and self-confidently engage in informed dialogue and in the decision-making processes around the Panguna mine issue and community development in general. The fundamental approach of the workshops is elicitive and dialogical, helping participants to identify and reflect upon their own key values, skills, challenges and problems, offering an opportunity to learn from each other and together with the workshop facilitators, enhancing their skills and capacities, and identifying areas needing joint planned action.

The workshops will provide support aimed at identifying and building skills to negotiate increasingly more complex Panguna-related challenges and to constructively engage with external actors (government, mining company/ies etc). They will build on the strengths of communities and participants and will elicit participants’ knowledge and experience. Out of this exploration participants will develop a shared vision for constructive change.

The detailed content of the workshops will be determined in collaboration with local co-facilitators and local stakeholders. A steering group of local leaders and a group of local facilitators will be involved in the planning and implementation of workshops and other project activities. The project equally addresses women and men.

The project ‘Building Capacity in Governance among Community Leaders in the Panguna Mine Area, Bougainville’ is funded by Misereor, the development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany. It will be coordinated by PaCSIA director Dr Volker Boege and Mr James Tanis, who leads the Bougainville project team. The Catholic Diocese of Bougainville has expressed its support for the project.

In the coming months we shall regularly report on the project’s progress on this site.